Early Edition: October 16, 2020

Curated summary of up-to-the-minute national security developments at home and abroad.

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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.

US DEVELOPMENTS

President Trump and the White House were last year warned by the intelligence community (IC) that the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani was the target of a Russian intelligence influence campaign, according to four former officials familiar with the internal matter. The IC’s warnings stemmed from multiple sources, including intercepted communications, that revealed that Giuliani was in Dec. 19 communicating with people linked to Russian intelligence during his trip to Ukraine and was being used to relay Russian disinformation back to the president. One former official said that national security advisor Robert O’Brien had told Trump that any information fed-back from his lawyer should be considered to be tainted by Russia; the message from O’Brien was, “Do what you want to do, but your friend Rudy has been worked by Russian assets in Ukraine,” the official said. Shane Harris, Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller and Josh Dawsey report for the Washington Post.

Elliott Broidy, a longtime GOP and Trump fundraiser, is expected to plead guilty to recent criminal charges that accused him of violating foreign lobbying laws by illegally lobbying the Trump administration to drop its investigation into the Malaysian 1MDB corruption scandal. Broidy is expected to attend a plea deal hearing Tuesday in a federal court in Washington. Reuters reporting.

Phillip Halpern, the career prosecutor who lead the prosecutions against Duncan Hunter and Duke Cunningham, has said in a piece for the San Diego Union-Tribune that he is “fleeing” the Justice Department over Attorney General William Barr’s “resentment toward rule-of-law,” including his: misrepresentation of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report; unwarranted “meddling” in the separate criminal cases of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former national security advisor Michael Flynn, and longtime confidant Roger Stone; support of several firings of officials instigated by Trump; and his support of unfounded conspiracy theories regarding mail-in voter fraud. Halpern takes particular issue with Barr’s long-running “politicization of the Justice Department” regarding U.S. Attorney for Connecticut John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Russia investigations by the CIA and FBI.

US Postal Service (USPS) workers have falsified data on millions of package deliveries, marking packages with the intentionally wrong delivery-designation code, according to internal data and postal workers themselves. Data and interviews from over 20 current and former employees have revealed that packages were being marked on the system as having been attempted to be delivered, when the reality was the package had never left the postal depot. Julie Zauzmer and Jacob Bogage report for the Washington Post.

Richard Holzer, the self-described white supremacist, pleaded guilty yesterday to federal hate crime and explosive charges over his failed plot last year to blow up a synagogue in Colorado, prosecutors have confirmed. Holzer, 28, was arrested November and admitted to prosecutors his planned attack, the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed in a statement. Phil Helsel reports for NBC News.

Mexico’s former defense minister, General Salvador Cienfuegos, has been detained by US authorities at the Los Angeles International Airport following a warrant by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), DEA spokesperson Nicole Nishida confirmed to Reuters. The news initially surfaced when Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard announced the arrest on Twitter, stating that he had received the information from U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau. Reuters reporting.

Five takeaways from Trump’s and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s dueling town halls are provided by Sahil Kapur and Alex Seitz-Wald for NBC News.

THE BIDENS: NEW YORK POST STORY

The Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to subpoena social media giant Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey next Tuesday following the company’s decision to prohibit any user from sharing a series of New York Post stories that revealed emails and documents claimed, although much-disputed, to belong to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and which embroil both Bidens into an alleged long history with a Ukrainian energy company. Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said his committee will vote on sending the subpoena Tuesday, with the aim to have Dorsey’s testimony before the panel by Friday. Siobhan Hughes reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Federal authorities are investigating whether the emails and documents, which were discovered on a laptop dropped off at a Delaware repair shop, were the work of foreign intelligence operations, two people familiar with the matter said. The FBI got hold of the laptop and hard drive via a grand jury subpoena, which the Post then published. The Bureau has refused to comment. Ken Dilanian reports for NBC News.

Twitter announced last night that it has changed its policies on sharing hacked materials after facing backlash – but will continue to block users from sharing the Post story. Twitter has said it would no longer remove hacked content from its platform “unless it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them,” according to a post on Twitter by executive and safety lead Vijaya Gadde. She added that warning labels with context will be added to hacked information shared by its user, as opposed to blocking it altogether. Cristiano Lima reports for POLITICO.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected very close to 8 million and now killed over 217,700 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there has been over 38.97 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 1.1 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) will audit whether the Pentagon’s decision to redirect the majority of its $1 billion in coronavirus-related funding it received from Congress “was in accordance with federal regulations and Defense Production Act authorities,” according to a memo dated Wednesday from the OIG. The announcement follows reports that the Pentagon funneled the majority of its funding from the CARES Act to defense contractors and used it to make new jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniform. “As we communicated to your staff, the [Department of Defense] DoD OIG had previously planned an audit of DoD CARES Act awards to increase defense industrial base manufacturing capacity,” said a letter from the OIG to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-A) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), also dated Wednesday. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

The Transport Department has said it may block “anarchist jurisdictions” from receiving any funds under the $10 million in coronavirus transit grants, drawing on a memo issued by President Trump early last month that called for “anarchist jurisdictions” to be excluded from federal funding. The grants are supposed to increase innovative “exposure mitigation measures,” including real-time notifications so that commuters can avoid crowds, improvements to contactless payment systems and disinfection measures. The American Public Transportation Association has voiced concern that the plan could acutely affect Seattle, Portland, OR., or New York City, all of which the Trump administration has said permit anarchy. Michael Laris reports for the Washington Post.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the US is available at the New York Times.

US and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian.

US RELATIONS

A group of Iran-backed militia in Iraq has agreed a temporary cease-fire against US-linked diplomats and military groups in Iraq but only if the Trump administration commits to and completes a full withdrawal of all US troops by the end of the year, said Ahmed al-Assadi, a lawmaker representing the political arm of the militia group Hashd al-Shaabi, speaking to AFP news Wednesday. “The truce isn’t open-ended … In my estimation, at its earliest, it could end around the US elections … or it could last until the end of the year,” he said, adding, “A truce lasting longer than the end of the year doesn’t make much sense. We’re only giving the government more time to negotiate the withdrawal.” Al Jazeera reporting.

An agreement between the US and the Taliban has been struck to “re-set” the commitments reached under the US-brokered agreement with the insurgent group. “We agreed to re-set actions by strictly adhering to implementation of all elements of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement and all commitments made,” U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said in post on Twitter. “At present too many Afghans are dying. With the re-set, we expect that number to drop significantly.” Reuters reporting.

The final draft of the annual defense policy bill will curtail President Trump’s ability to reduce US troop levels in Germany, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) told reporters during a conference call. An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), sponsored by Gallego and Rep. Don Bacon (R-NB), would prohibit any withdrawal of troops in Germany until the plan was approved separately by the U.S Defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the amendment was approved by the House Armed Services Committee in a bipartisan 49-7 vote. Gallego also said that a similar amendment was considered by the Senate in June. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Yemen’s warring sides a Saudi-led military coalition and Yemen’s Houthi rebel movement — yesterday initiated a huge, UN-brokered prisoner swap agreed last month in Switzerland that will see over 1,000 men returned home. More than 600 Houthi rebels and 400 pro-government prisoners are expected to be released over the next two days. Over 700 were exchanged yesterday, the International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson Ruth Hetherington said.  Reuters reporting.

Kurdish-led authorities yesterday released over 600 ISIS-linked militants imprisoned in northern Syria as part of an agreed amnesty in the region. AP reporting.

The defense ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh region confirmed today that there has been a further 29 casualties among its military, upping the military death toll to 633 since the conflict with Armenian and Azeri forces broke out Sept. 27. Reuters reporting.

Israel’s parliament yesterday approved a US-brokered peace treaty with the UAE in an 80-13 vote.Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

Iranian government institutions were this week the target of two cyberattacks, including an attack on the electronic infrastructure of the country’s ports, an Iranian news outlet reported today. Reuters reporting.

Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov yesterday resigned following ten days of civil unrest following a much-disputed election that saw protestors call for his removal from office. Reuters reporting. 

About the Author(s)

Siven Watt

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter (@SivenWatt)